The Beat Goes On: A trombone celebration in Holyoke, Lord Russ shifts gears, and the Hampshire Young People’s Chorus turns 25

The Holyoke Civic Symphony will play its final concert of the season May 5 at Holyoke Community College, a show designed to celebrate the trombone.

The Holyoke Civic Symphony will play its final concert of the season May 5 at Holyoke Community College, a show designed to celebrate the trombone. Image courtesy Holyoke Civic Symphony

Guest artist and trombonist Matthew Russo from Connecticut joines the Holyoke Civic Symphony for their May 5 concert celebrating the trombone.

Guest artist and trombonist Matthew Russo from Connecticut joines the Holyoke Civic Symphony for their May 5 concert celebrating the trombone. Image courtesy Holyoke Civic Symphony

Left, Russell Brooks — the artist formerly known as Lord Russ — and Valley guitarist Tony Silva will be at The Parlor Room in Northampton May 11.

Left, Russell Brooks — the artist formerly known as Lord Russ — and Valley guitarist Tony Silva will be at The Parlor Room in Northampton May 11. Image from Signature Sounds website

The Chamber Singers, one of two sections of the Hampshire Young People’s Chorus, will celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary May 11 at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley.

The Chamber Singers, one of two sections of the Hampshire Young People’s Chorus, will celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary May 11 at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Image courtesy Hampshire Young People’s Chorus

The Concert Choir, the younger of two sections of the Hampshire Young People’s Chorus, will celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary May 11 at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley.

The Concert Choir, the younger of two sections of the Hampshire Young People’s Chorus, will celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary May 11 at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Image courtesy Hampshire Young People’s Chorus

Pioneering cellist Mike Block brings his varied styles to The Parlor Room May 5.

Pioneering cellist Mike Block brings his varied styles to The Parlor Room May 5. Photo from Mike Block website

Martin Barre, the guitarist from seminal progressive rockers Jethro Tull, comes to Northampton’s Academy of Music May 10.

Martin Barre, the guitarist from seminal progressive rockers Jethro Tull, comes to Northampton’s Academy of Music May 10. Image from Martin Barre website

Veteran jazz and pop singer-songwrite Rickie Lee Jones comes to the Shea Theater in Turners Falls May 10.

Veteran jazz and pop singer-songwrite Rickie Lee Jones comes to the Shea Theater in Turners Falls May 10. Image from Rickie Lee Jones website

Grammy-winning pop singer Gaby Moreno, who’s made her mark in English and Spanish, will be at The Drake in Amherst May 11. 

Grammy-winning pop singer Gaby Moreno, who’s made her mark in English and Spanish, will be at The Drake in Amherst May 11.  Image from Gaby Moreno website

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 05-06-2024 5:37 PM

The Holyoke Civic Symphony has titled its 2023-2024 season “The Brass Menagerie,” not to be cute but to highlight a series of concerts dedicated to celebrating the family of brass instruments: the horn, the tuba, the trumpet, and the trombone.

On May 5, HCS will play its final show of the year, “Bone Appetit” (OK, that’s a little cute), a 3 p.m. concert in the Leslie Phillips Theater at Holyoke Community College centering on music focused on the trombone.

As program notes explain, Hector Berlioz, the 19th-century French Romantic composer, once called the the trombone the most important brass instrument because “it possesses nobility and grandeur,” with “serious and powerful tones of sublime musical poetry, from religious, calm and imposing accents to savage orgiastic outburst.”

To capture some of that poetry, the symphony will feature music in which the trombone can shine, starting with “Danse Bacchanale” by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), as well as work by Igor Stravinsky and contemporary American composer Allen Molineux. The latter’s “Zapateado,” a piece inspired by a Spanish dance of the same name, won the 2024 HCS Composition Competition.

The May 5 show will also showcase the work of guest solo trombonist Matthew Russo on “Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra” by Danish composer Launy Grondahl (1886-1960). Russo, who teaches at the University of Connecticut, plays in a number of ensembles in the state; he’s the principal trombonist of the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra.

In program notes, Russo says the trombone has had a “special history in Western music” due to its versatility, including even serving as a replacement for voices in choirs during the Renaissance.

His goal in performing in the Launy Grondahl piece, he says, “is to demonstrate the vast color palette of the trombone,” with the hope “that someone in the audience will say, ‘Wow, I never knew the trombone could do that.’”

 

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

State auditor: UMass violated law in axing Advancement office last year
Valley Bounty: Fibers for farmers: Western Massachusetts Fibershed turns local ‘throw away’ wool into fertilizer pellets
Budget rift emerges at Granby TM: Finance Committee at odds with School, Fire departments
With NCAA settlement, sea change comingfor UMass athletics
Judge denies Rintala’s motion to reduce prison sentence
More music, bigger stages: In new hands, Green River Festival returns next weekend with headliners CAKE, Fleet Foxes and Gregory Alan Isakov

Russell Brooks has been better known for years in these parts as Lord Russ, the flamboyant singer and guitarist who fronted bands such as The Aloha Steamtrain, shared stages with artists including Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann and Dinosaur Jr., and did a pretty fair Elvis impersonation.

Now Brooks is going by just his original name, and he’s shifted to fingerpicking a nylon-string guitar and playing original music — instrumentals and vocals — that’s inspired by Brazilian and Spanish sounds and a bit of Gypsy Jazz.

“When COVID came along, I started looking for something new,” he said during a recent phone call. “I basically put away my electric guitars and started listening to a lot of Spanish guitar.”

Brooks will bring his new sound to The Parlor Room in Northampton on May 11 at 7:30 p.m., sharing the bill with Tony Silva, the noted Valley guitarist who specializes in a range of music from Spain and Latin America. They’ll do separate sets and then play a few songs together.

Brooks hasn’t played out much in recent years, and he sees his Parlor Room gig as a way to share his new musical approach and some basic life changes he’s made: “Playing music for me isn’t about being famous anymore, it’s about sharing peace and love.”

 

When the Hampshire Young People’s Chorus (YPC) takes the stage at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley on May 11 at 3 p.m., they’ll be marking a significant milestone: their 25th anniversary.

The chorus, formed in 1999 as an affiliate of the Hampshire Choral Society, is for children and teenagers ages 8 to 18, formed into two groups: the Concert Choir, for singers in grades 3-5, and the Chamber Singers, grades 6-12. The singers hail from 10 different Valley communities.

YPC offers its singers plenty of challenges: admission is by audition, and the repertoire has included songs in many different languages, including French, Swedish, Spanish, Mandarin and Estonian. Sight reading and instruction in building strong vocal techniques are part of the weekly lessons; many members are already part of their school choruses, so they have busy schedules.

For years, YPC has also collaborated with other groups and artists in concerts, including The Sweetback Sisters and fiddle master Natalie MacMaster. K.C. Conlan, YPC’s longtime director, says in the last year the group performed with the Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Handel + Haydn Youth Chorus, and with Boston’s Metropolitan Chorale in a production of “Carmina Burana.”

For the group’s May 11 concert, they’ll be performing work by a diverse group of composers, such as William Boyce, an 18th-century English contemporary of Bach and Handel, and Reena Esmail, whose compositions embrace Western and Indian musical traditions.

Conlan says she’s worked to have YPC singers develop “music literacy, beautiful tone and part-singing,” and she looks for music in a variety of styles to help realize those goals.

“I've long wanted to program William Boyce’s ‘Alleluia’ canon, and this year I had the right group for it,” Conlan noted in an email. And, she said, Esmail is “a young Los Angeles-based Indian-American composer whose piece ‘Listen’ really spoke to me.” 

 

More music on tap

Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield is featuring a full night of improvisational jam rock and what the center calls “rock and roll reggae” tonight (Friday, May 3) with Arukah and Woody and the Rebel Alliance. The show begins at 8 p.m.

Mike Block takes the cello in amazingly different directions, whether playing solo or with different ensembles, handling classic Bach compositions or Chuck Berry licks, or using a strap to stand and move with his cello as he sings original folk-style compositions. He brings this fusion music to The Parlor Room on May 5 at 7:30 p.m.

Martin Barre, the guitarist for legendary progressive rockers Jethro Tull, comes to Northampton’s Academy of Music on May 10 at 8 p.m. with his current band for his show “A Short History of Tull.” The concert includes a special visual presentation and some interactive elements.

There’s a low-ticket alert in place to see pop/jazz stylist Rikki Lee Jones at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls on May 10 at 8 p.m.

Songwriter and pop singer Gaby Moreno, winner of two Latin Grammy Awards and a nominee for two other Grammys (in 2017 and 2023), will play an 8 p.m. show on May 11 at The Drake in Amherst.